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Tuesday likely marked the first and last time Tim Tebow's name was mingled with that of former NFL cancer Lawrence Phillips. But one AFC executive found a way to draw the comparison, while trying to shed light on how hotly debated the University of Florida quarterback will be in the months leading up to the 2010 NFL draft.
"Just from the standpoint of deliberating, he'll probably be one of the most picked-over guys since Lawrence Phillips," the high ranking AFC personnel man said of the former Nebraska running back and eventual NFL flameout taken with the sixth overall pick by the St. Louis Rams in 1996. "Obviously, when I say 'picked-over,' it's solely from a football standpoint. Phillips was more about, you know, the human being side of it. But for the time and effort spent on a decision, arguing it and going back and forth, [Tebow] is going to be way up there. There's going to be a lot of [consternation] to come to a decision."
There are already clear divisions over Tebow in the NFL community. Yahoo! Sports reached out to personnel men from five different teams, posing the question of where they believed the Florida quarterback would fit in the NFL draft. None of the five teams had a final draft grade on Tebow (final grades usually don't solidify until March or April), but there were mixed opinions about whether Tebow could play quarterback in the NFL. Two executives believe Tebow will ultimately switch to tight end or H-back. Two others said they believed he would remain at quarterback. One said it was too early in the evaluation process to make a definitive statement.
Clearly there are ample concerns to be sorted out. Among them, scouts wonder about Tebow's arm strength and accuracy under pressure, his ability to run a pro style offense and make quick decisions, lingering concerns about a concussion he suffered Sept. 26 against Kentucky, and how the departure of key offensive pieces from 2008 (like wideouts Louis Murphy(notes) and Percy Harvin(notes)) have impacted his effectiveness this season.
The situation isn't totally unlike that of Miami Dolphins quarterback Pat White(notes), who was hotly debated heading into last season's NFL draft. Some thought White's size and ability as a passer didn't translate well to the pro game, and projected him as a receiver. Others argued White had the tools to fit successfully as a hybrid runner/passer in Wildcat formations.
But it wasn't until the NFL scouting combine, when White had an extremely strong performance throwing the football, that perceptions of him being a legitimate NFL passer began to solidify. And while Tebow's size (6-foot-3, 240 pounds) is drastically different from White (6-0, 190), he's facing many of the same questions about his ability to function as a pocket quarterback. That has led to some of the recent public debate between some Super Bowl winning coaches.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden raised a few eyebrows in February when he heaped praise on Tebow in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, saying Tebow could "revolutionize the game" as an NFL quarterback. And while Gruden has been known to pump out hyperbole from time to time, antennas went up again when his affection was echoed by former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy during an appearance on the Dan Patrick radio show last month.
Dungy said he'd have no qualms selecting Tebow with a top 10 pick, and would also take him over any of this year's top quarterbacks, including Texas' Colt McCoy, a Heisman Trophy candidate.
"Tim Tebow doesn't have the classic throwing motion," Dungy said on the show. "He doesn't have the accuracy, maybe, right now that some people are looking for, but I think when he gets into a pro system that really stresses throwing the ball accurately. The big thing is he makes the people around him better. And he's won."
But former Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson came out just as vehemently against Tebow in a series of radio interviews this week, arguing the negatives of the Florida quarterback.
"I don't think Tebow can play in a pro style of offense – not quarterback," Johnson said in an interview with Sporting News radio. "I think a team that's going to look at Tim Tebow, they're going to make one of two decisions. If they're going to bring him into their style of play, with their coaching staff, they've got to project him to be maybe an H-back.
"If you're going to take Tim Tebow, and you're going to say 'OK, I'm going to have him be our quarterback,' you might as well get rid of your coaching staff and hire a spread offense coach. So bring in a new coaching staff – bring in Urban Meyer with him, and run that style of offense if he's going to be your quarterback. Because he can't play in a pro style of offense."
Johnson's conflicting viewpoint with Dungy and Gruden provides an accurate window into the debate that will be raging inside NFL teams over the next few months. Indeed, the five evaluators who spoke with Yahoo! Sports did agree on one thing concerning Tebow: He will be expected to use all of his opportunities to work out in front of NFL teams.
"There is going to be a lot of pressure – a load of pressure – for him to take part in everything once that [evaluation] process kicks it up a notch," an NFC executive said. "If he's willing to do everything to be a quarterback at this level, he has to do everything. The Senior Bowl, the combine and his pro day – he has to be all in. He can't pick and choose and take some things off. If he's taking things off in this particular situation, that's a bad decision.
"The Senior Bowl will be the big temperature gauge. … Philip Rivers(notes) and his Senior Bowl, from a coaching perspective, there were some concerns about Philip's mechanics and release and some of those things. He was one of those guys [where] you wanted to see how much he could improve from practice to practice when he had [NFL coaches] put their hands on him every day. He really set himself apart at the Senior Bowl, and that's where we'll find out a lot about [Tebow]."
Here are some of this week's other inconvenient truths …
Cutler needs to embrace McNabb as a mentor
One of the most intriguing moments of Week 11 was when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb(notes) pulled Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler(notes) aside and whispered in his ear for slightly more than a minute after their Sunday night meeting. Much has been made of what McNabb said, particularly in Chicago, which has seemingly reached new depths in its relationship with Cutler in recent days. In at least part of the audio, you could hear McNabb talking about the time that Cutler needs to spend working on his chemistry with his receivers.
McNabb and Cutler following the Eagles' 24-20 victory.
( Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo)
It was a unique opportunity for Cutler, who has a reputation of being his own guy. He's not one who has ever been known as overly eager to seek advice from others, and in Denver, his relationship with coach Mike Shanahan trumped that of his peers. So for McNabb to take the initiative and offer Cutler some insight on the negativity surrounding him was significant, particularly considering opposing scouting reports are likely to include information on Cutler's emotional tendencies. Whether it's his penchant for incessantly complaining to officials or his negative body language when mistakes are made, he's sending messages to opponents when he becomes rattled.
McNabb knows how to navigate these pitfalls better than anyone in the NFL. He has suffered more barbs during his career than any other high-caliber quarterback currently starting in the NFL. And yet, he has displayed absolute aplomb over the years in the face of a variety of problems. Cutler needs to recognize that there may not be a better personality out there to latch onto. Not only can McNabb speak to the realities of playing in a vicious, unforgiving fan environment, he can also share a perspective of playing in an undermanned offense amid demanding expectations. There may not be a more perfect mentor for Cutler. One can only hope he's willing to realize that.
Ryan has to find some emotional balance
The more I watch New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, and the more stories I hear about him, the more I think about former NBA coach Doug Collins. Collins was always known to have a wild compass, swinging from highs and lows with his players, often to the point that he would burn out his veterans, and eventually, himself. Ryan seems to be toeing that same line, swinging violently with each win and loss.
While his crying following an emotional 24-22 loss to Jacksonville two weeks ago has been spun largely in a positive light, it raised some eyebrows. One Jets player told Yahoo! Sports that he was "shocked" when Ryan broke down. The player said he didn't think it was a negative thing, but said that the meeting in which the crying occurred became palpably awkward and that at least a few of the veterans appeared uncomfortable afterward.
Said the player, "Honestly, it was cool and everything, but it was a little weird, too. I don't think anyone expected that kind of reaction."
Ryan has to be careful walking that line, because while it can be seen as a sign of total investment, it can be the kind of thing that shakes the players' confidence, too. Much of the veteran core has already adopted his emotional style, but players will take that only so far in the NFL, particularly if the team continues to struggle to win. Too much of an emotional reaction to losing can plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of some players. What is seen as heartfelt in one moment can eventually be construed as softness or weakness, or even the inability to handle the rigors of a job.
Ryan isn't anywhere near that point now, but he's got to recognize that every emotional moment isn't meant for team-wide consumption.